I woke up this morning to the news that Modi’s men want to maximize its land within India. I mean it’s alright to secure our borders but what about the land lying idle in plain view?
So Railways, Telecommunications and Defence, India’s biggest landowners, are put on alert. Their surplus land are mere idle parcels begging for infrastructure and commercial attention. Figures are damning too.
Railways and Defence own more land than 10s of Palestines, the cause of which hasn’t let us sleep since 1940s. Railways has around 1.25 lakh acres of land lying vacant out of 11.80 lakh acres, Defence is even bigger, around 6.35 lakh acres. Then you have our BSNL and MTNLs. The surplus land of BSNL alone is worth Rs 24,980 crores.
BSNL would be the first to part with its excess. Next in line are BPLC, CONCOR, Air India and Shipping Corporation of India. Public Private Partnership (PPP) is mooted, Toll-Operation-Transfer is seen a win-win model for all. Why, the Union Budget 2020-21 had listed plans to monetize at least 12 lots of highway bundles of over 6,000km before 2024.
Waqf Board anyone? You can’t tell me you haven’t heard on them. I could understand you don’t know that ones across India hold at least six lakh acres of land worth $18 billion. But there ought to be something for the UPA government in 2005 had set up a seven-member Justice Rajindar Sachar panel which recommended an overhaul of waqf boards and which was given a quiet burial by our rulers and prepaid media. In 2013, the UPA government floated the idea of bringing waqf lands under the Public Premises Act. Nothing happened. Modi government has acted only to the extent that there is a Waqf Management System of India (WAMSI) portal. Some 5.56 lakh acres of land has found entry into the system. But what about half of Waqf lands now virtually owned by individuals? Where corruption and not charity is the order of day?
Let me first give a short primer on Waqf. By its definition Waqf, an Arabic word, is giving away of a property for charity by person of Islamic faith. It means, loosely, immobilization, in English. That is, it must not be sold or developed to earn profits. State Waqf boards guard these lands under the Waqf Act, 1995. In 2015, the Supreme Court directed all states to set up three-member Waqf boards to protect such property. In all there are 32 such boards across states and union territories.
A government estimate claims over half of the Waqf land are occupied by people who are not its legitimate owners. The issues in public domain are instances of a CEO of Maharashtra State Waqf Board found transferring land to a private developer for non-Waqf purpose; Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party trying to bring back a tainted MLA as chairman of the Delhi Waqf Board; and Delhi High Court snubbing the Delhi Waqf Board and Delhi government on an encroachment thus: “You cannot encroach even to house other people. Charity begins at home. So do charity at your home. You cannot encroach upon…it’s not permissible.”
Why, even Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, our minority affairs minister, has acknowledged of the existence of a “Waqf mafia.” A Reuters report confirmed the rampant misuse of Waqf properties.
The Centre cannot take Waqf land. It shouldn’t even think on the lines like it could with its institutions like Railways, Defence and Telecommunications. But it’s within its right to coax the State Waqf boards to follow the best practices around the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia and Malaysia have no hesitation in calling them “Corporate Waqf Institutions.” There are professionally run management bodies which have developed Waqf programmes to manage and invest Waqf assets. If Saudis could do it, what stops our own Muslims unless the idea is to tease the Centre and thumb your nose at the cost of the country?
We are not even talking of taxing the God’s land. All that is needed is to clean up the encroachers and encourage Waqf boards to maximize its assets. Don’t tell me that fighting litigations (Ram Janmabhoomi) or poring over plans to build (Ayodhya mosque) is all that they (UP Sunni Waqf Board) could do.